AU says plans to increase troop strength in Darfur

KHARTOUM (Reuters) — The African Union plans to send more troops into Sudan to reinforce its extended Darfur peacekeeping mission, an AU spokesman said on Sunday.

“Seven thousand troops are not enough to deal with implementation of the DPA,” Noureddine Mezni said in reference to the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) signed between the Sudanese government and one Darfur rebel faction in May.

“It will be a matter of battalions. I cannot specify how many battalions we are going to bring, but we are going to increase the number of troops,” he added.

A battalion is usually composed of 600 to 800 soldiers.

The African Union’s mandate in Darfur had been set to expire on September 30 and the pan-African body said it could not continue beyond October because it was out of money and needed more equipment such as helicopters.

The United Nations had hoped to send 20,000 soldiers and police into Darfur to replace the AU forces, which have been unable to stem the fighting that has killed an estimated 200,000 people and forced 2.5 million from their homes since 2003.

But the Sudanese government has refused to allow UN forces into Darfur, calling it a Western ploy to recolonise Sudan.

With aid experts predicting a new humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur if peacekeepers withdrew, the AU agreed last week to extend its mission until December 31, with logistical and material support from the United Nations and funding from Arab states.

Noureddine said more troops were also needed to bolster the operation in the arid region the size of France.

“We have additional tasks. It is important to increase the number. We are working on that,” he said, adding if approved troops could begin deploying within a matter of weeks.

The soldiers would come from countries already contributing troops in Darfur—Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Senegal.

Meanwhile, efforts were to continue on Monday at the United Nations to gear up for a possible mission transfer.

More than 140 countries interested in contributing troops and police to a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur are expected to attend a meeting convened by the UN department of peacekeeping operations in New York.

“Time is running out. The violence in Darfur is not subsiding, it is getting worse,” US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told ministers and envoys of 27 countries, the African Union, the Arab League and the United Nations on Friday.

Egypt’s UN ambassador, Maged Abdelaziz, told Reuters at the meeting everyone agreed on a UN force, but with the consent of Sudan’s government, which has rejected it.

“The issue is not to get the UN force in. The issue here is how to strategise for the next three months while the African Union force is still in place,” he said.

The United Nations has readied communications and other equipment and 100 personnel to help AU forces in the coming months.

Qatar’s UN ambassador, Nassir Abdulaziz Al Nasser, said some $50 million had been raised for the force among Arab nations, who aimed at raising $100 million.

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